Blowing the whistle…
Efforts are ongoing to address the conditions around Ephrata’s new Whistle Stop Plaza, surrounding the historic train station.
So, too, are the concerns.
At Monday night’s Ephrata Borough Council meeting, well-known local business owner Don Sherman utilized the resident comment portion of the meeting to add his voice to the growing chorus discussing the regular throng of young people who regularly hang in that area.
The concern raised is not that the location has become the hangout of choice so much as the bad behavior that comes with that crowd and the negative impact it is having on downtown merchants and their customers.
“What these kids have left behind on a Friday night is atrocious,” said Sherman. “What motivated me to (come) here tonight was that there was a meeting a week or so ago that Mr. Mowen was a part of, yet neither the Fun-nest Toy Store Ever! nor the pharmacy were in on that meeting.”
Sherman, who owns Royer Pharmacy, was referring to a meeting at which Mayor Ralph Mowen and council member Bob Good met with local youth ministries, the Chamber of Commerce, DEI and other faith-based groups to discuss possible solutions to the matter and organize around the effort.
“I’ve counted as many as 35 kids on that lot,” noted Sherman. “They are not just at one spot but everywhere, from walkways, to the paths by the train station.”
Not usually one to be easily intimidated, Sherman admitted that on occasion recently he chose an alternative path to enter and exit his store so as to avoid having to deal with the group.
“The language is foul to say the least,” added Sherman. “There is massive rudeness and pervasiveness.”
And it is not just the language that has residents worried.
Reports of potential drug sales, smoking, intimidating behavior and not yielding the right away add to a mix which has many afraid to even park on the adjacent parking area.
Sherman noted one evening recently when, within the first hour and a half, he had five customers call him out to share their concerns. One said she was even too afraid to get out of her car in order to come into the store.
Council has heard from frustrated residents and business owners before and members share their concerns. Mowen and Good have made special efforts to visit Whistle Stop plaza to interact with the youth in hopes of finding a viable solution and a suitable alternative.
Ephrata Police are likewise aware of the concerns, having increased patrol presence in an effort to curb the worst behavior. Yet, as Police Chief William Harvey pointed out, unless there is criminal behavior observed, the police are somewhat limited in what can be done.
“The police have been very good and I realize their hands are tied,” said Sherman. “Maybe they need your help to find some sort of ordinance to deal with the more aggressively belligerent behavior. I do know the police do what they can with what they have.”
As with past concerns raised, council was receptive and understanding.
“It is a problem the council, along with staff, the Chief and Mayor are working on,” responded Council President Dale Hertzog.
For his part, Mowen addressed Sherman’s concerns that he and other local business leaders were not invited to the recent meeting on the topic.
“We did not invite any individual merchants to the meeting,” explained Mowen. “But we did invite about 15 different churches, youth leaders, non-faith based organizations, the Chamber of Commerce and DEI etc. We had 25-30 people at the meeting.”
Mowen told Sherman that Good would be co-chairing the committee going forward.
“We compiled quite a few pages of ideas on what to do,” added Mowen. “Some of them would like the more rowdy ones to go away but unfortunately those are some of the smaller kids. We are hoping that with the new skate park opening by the Ephrata Library in late August or early September it may help.
And Mowen added a human dimension to the issue.
“This really isn’t a kid problem but a community problem,” he added. “We cannot arrest them because they are not doing anything illegal.”
While the issue may be complex and the solutions not yet in focus, Mowen stressed that that many possible solutions are on the table, all aimed at having the maximum positive impact on residents of all ages.
“We are looking at a smoking ordinance which may help,” added Mowen. “But this or any solution will take some time. With summer coming, we’re hoping that with more activities coming, the young people will not be as inclined to hang there.”
About a half dozen members of Boy Scout Troop #73 along with four of their leaders were present for Monday night’s meeting. One of their young members gave some additional perspective on youth conduct beyond Whistle Stop Plaza.
He raised concerns about evidence of underage drinking going on in some of the wooded areas adjacent to the linear trail. He said he and his friends not only found quite a few liquor bottles, they also heard them shouting.
“We heard them having contests to see who could drink the fastest,” explained the Scout. “I agree with Mr. Sherman. When my mom had to pick up a prescription at Royers, I asked if I could wait in the car. My mom said I could not cause (of the kids) hanging around.”
Seeming wise beyond his years, he expressed an understanding of the challenge posed.
“I agree that it’s not the police’s fault,” the Scout said. “Who knows what they may have in their pockets; perhaps they have some sort of weapon. I feel like it is a very dangerous group to be around sometimes.”
And finally, in other borough news, Mayor Mowen commented on the significant disturbance to corners along Main Street where pavers had been removed by PennDOT as they reconfigure sidewalks to be in compliance with current ADA requirements. He said he had held a meeting with PennDOT, project managers, contractors, design engineers and the construction managers at borough hall.
“Initially when we contacted the local PennDOT contractor, we were told that what we see is what we were going to get,” said Mowen, who explained that the concrete used at each corner was even more massive than it was already. “We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make our downtown look nice. I was pleasantly surprised how willing (PennDOT) was to discuss the issue.
Thanks to the collective efforts of the mayor, along with help from Rep. Gordon Denlinger, PennDOT has agreed to significantly reduce the amount of concrete to be used instead of pavers. In addition, they have agreed to put back into place close to half of the pavers initially removed. The main areas which will be concrete will be the sloped areas where traction stamped concrete is required by code.
For additional information on Ephrata Borough, visit ephrataboro.org.
Gary P. Klinger is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter at www.twitter.com/gpklinger.